How Southeast Asia can nurture more women in technology

23 November 2020 7 min. read

Technology is unlocking remarkable opportunities in Southeast Asia and offers the potential to accelerate the region’s already impressive growth. In this technology-enabled landscape, digital talent has become an increasingly valuable resource, with more women in technology a fundamental driver of digital success, writes Vaishali Rastogi, a managing director at Boston Consulting Group. 

To illuminates the landscape of women in technology across the region, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partnered with Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority and SG Women in Tech to develop the report ‘Boosting Women in Technology’. The report is based on surveys with 1,650 women holding technology roles across Southeast Asia, complemented by interviews with key female leaders in technology.

This research shows the positive foundations of Southeast Asia’s opportunity, as well as highlighting vital additional steps to deepen the participation of women in technology in Indonesia. 

Southeast Asian Employees See a Consistent Link Between Diversity and Competitiveness

Benefits of diversity

Education offers a vital foundation to unlocking opportunities for women in technology. Southeast Asia boasts some encouraging signs in education, with women making up 56 percent of graduates across all degrees, on par with the global average. Indonesia outperforms its regional peers in this regard, with women making up 59 percent of all university graduates.

When it comes to technology, the study paints a more mixed picture. In technology degrees, female participation falls to 39 percent in Southeast Asia, though 4 percent ahead of the global average. In Indonesia, that figure is 35 percent.

Women currently make up 38 percent of the entire workforce in Southeast Asia, 2 percent above the global average. This figure falls to just 28 percent globally for technology, highlighting the work still to be done in engaging female talent. In Southeast Asia, women make up 32 percent of technology workers, higher than Australia and the UK, and equal to the United States. 

BCG research demonstrates the value of gender diversity for businesses. It can make companies more innovative and agile, improving business performance. Those companies in which women account for more than 20 percent of the management team have approximately 10 percent higher innovation revenues than male-dominated peers. 

Southeast Asias Tech Sector Has a Relatively Strong Start in terms of Womens Representation Compared with Other Countries

Diversity has wider benefits to business and culture, however. It pays dividends through a more positive brand image and enhanced customer service. Diverse workplaces also enjoy benefits in attracting better and more diverse talent. 

Driving positive interventions

The Boosting Women in Technology report identified three moments of truth that play a crucial role in supporting women pursuing long-term technology careers. The first comes through education. Inspiring women to pursue a technology major in higher education is critical. 56 percent of women across the region cited personal interest as the driver of this choice. Alongside personal interest, peer influence was seen as a major driver of educational choice in Indonesia.

The second moment of truth comes in the first job selection. This is influenced both by personal interest and a natural and supported pathway from education. It’s also clear that perceived difficulties or limits to a technology career path create unnecessary barriers for women at this stage. Company reputation is a major influence in Indonesia, playing a vital role in first job selection. 

The third inflection point comes from continuation in a long-term technology career. These considerations are heavily influenced by compensation and benefits, career advancement opportunities, and work-life balance. Company reputation is a major influence in Indonesia, solidifying this driver across women’s employment lifecycles. Lack of advancement opportunities or family-related responsibilities can often present hurdles in this journey. 

Womens Representation in Tech Still Lags That of Other Industries in Southeast Asia

Each moment of truth presents an opportunity to deepen female participation in technology. An end-to-end approach that spans these three critical moments of truth can help build a more positive ecosystem. This should incorporate companies, government, educational institutions, and crucially – women themselves. 

Building a support framework

Structured and thoughtful diversity programs to engage female talent are essential for encouraging women in technology. Approximately 80-90 percent of respondents offered these programs noted they had personally benefited from them. But the report finds that a third of companies don’t have such programs in place.

Promoting women's leadership in technology is also important. Starting from the top not only boosts visibility, inspiring the next generation but provides a route towards the many benefits of leadership diversity in your business. 

Building talent pipelines by creatively looking beyond technology roles is another valuable opportunity for enterprises. The industry ecosystem continues to evolve, meaning a wide range of adjacent skills can be used to embrace talent from non-traditional pathways. This is particularly valuable in an industry where life-long learning is expected to be the norm. 

Only Two-Third of Respondents on Average Said That Their Company has a Gender Diversity Program in Place

Government and schools will provide an important foundation for engaging women in technology. It’s important to start technology in a curriculum as early as possible while providing an environment supporting and encouraging female students. This should include female educators to inspire and promote engagement.

Developing robust industry partnerships is also an important step for the government. This has an added advantage of supporting strong women’s networks and ensuring the best practices are leveraged across the sector.

Building the right regulatory support framework is another key consideration. The government should include legislation around structural workplace benefits such as maternity and paternity leave, nursing rooms, and childcare support. Promoting community awareness around gender diversity and opportunity offers a wider enabler of this journey.

These structural shifts provide an environment in which women are empowered to drive forward change. They must be proactive in building the skills for a future workforce. 

Key Influences for Women in Technology at Each Moment of Truth

Promoting internal company initiatives or engaging outside opportunities and networks provide avenues for women to explore. Role models also offer a real boost to this journey. Find your own successful balance in navigating this landscape to empower you better to help others, and leverage that status to promote and support the women around you. 

Finally, women should work to build allies in their male peers. Bring them along on this journey, so they can help support its success. The analysis shows the millennial worker segment, in particular, offers encouraging acknowledgment of this shared responsibility.

Gender diversity is a rare issue where the solutions benefit everyone. It offers the opportunity to add value and improve business performance while unlocking essential new workforce talent that will help Indonesia realize its digital ambitions. Most importantly, gender diversity provides an ecosystem where women are rewarded and supported on their own road to success. 

Vaishali Rastogi is a Singapore-based managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. She is also the firm’s global leader for the technology, media & telecommunications practice.